Chris Cresswell: "We've basically made a career out of slightly alienating our fan base every time we put out a record"
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Monday, July 3, 2023 - 07:03
Chris Cresswell: “We've basically made a career out of slightly alienating our fan base every time we put out a record”

Chris Cresswell - best known as the frontman for The Flatliners - recently announced his sophomore solo album, 'The Stubbornness Of The Young'. A true labor of love, the album has been written and recorded over the past several years and will be out September 15th via the band's own PWC Recordings, a new creative outlet for all Flatliners-related projects (pre-order the album). We recently got the chance to sit down with Chris at the Jera On Air festival to talk about the upcoming album, Hot Water Music and juggling different bands among other things. Check out the video for the excellent first single 'Behind The Crow,' below. (photo credit: Riley Taylor)


PRT: You have been playing solo shows for a couple of years now. You released a couple of songs here and there. You did the One Week Record album. So where does the solo album fit in? Did that seem like the next logical step?

Chris: Since working with Joey Cape all those years ago and putting out the One Week Record, I just kept writing songs. And now, when I'm writing a song, it eventually goes into a pile. It’s either for The Flatliners or Hot Water Music or I keep it for myself.  A lot of ‘New Ruin’ and even some songs for ‘Feel The Void’  were actually written all at the same time. And it can be hard to know which pile it will end up in, but it eventually reveals itself when you think about how you want to record it, how it could turn out. The personality of the song then dictates which pile it ends up in.

I've been working on this record kind of in secret and chipping away at it for some time now. Pre-Covid even. It has actually been done for a while, but then I realized that both the Flatliners and Hot Water Musicwere going to put out a record in 2022 and I thought that adding a third record would be too much ‘me’. Even for me <laughs>.

So I've been been sitting on it, and it feels great to finally be putting those songs out. There'll be a few more songs coming out over the Summer and the record comes out in September. It's been a labor of love and I'm so proud of it. I got a lot of buddies playing on the record, it was really fun to put together and there’s absolutely no pressure. The stakes are low.


PRT: It's called Stubbornness of the Young. What's the story behind the title?

Chris: The title comes from a lyric on the record. Thematically, the record goes into a bunch of different places, but I think at this point, people that know my music know there's a lot of self-reflection.

The year I started working on this record, was also the year that I was getting married and that the Flats had taken a break from touring. So my life was changing. Not in a bad way, but in a significant way.

Mind you, some of the songs I wrote for this record were written three years or so before I started recording the album. So the timeline is vast and some of the writing for this record overlaps with that of ‘Inviting Light,’ which also covers a lot of self-reflection about age and your life that is changing.

I think that's where the theme and that lyric come from. You know, missing the old days, remembering when you were a kid very fondly. You got to be stubborn, you got to do whatever you want. You're a kid. You don't know fucking anything. You're basically an idiot. <laughs>. There's no pressure, no responsibility.

But then you grow up and realize that as life changes and as you dig deeper into your family life, your friendships, whatever you're doing for work, whatever it is that makes you feel whole, it’s worth it. On one hand, it can feel difficult to be in control of the way that life makes you feel. But at the same time, we do get a choice in how we want to shape our own lives.

So there’s a lot of self-reflection on ‘Stubbornness Of The Young’. And that particular song where the album title comes from, deals with that as well, but in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Like maybe shit was cooler then because the world has fallen apart kind of thing.


PRT: Do you still consider yourself one of the young? Or have you already turned more into the get off my lawn’ type of person?

Chris: I'm right on the fence now, man. <laughs>. We're lucky that over the years we have befriended a lot of bands we grew up listening to. Those people are obviously older than us. So in certain circles, myself and the rest of the band still feel like the kid. But in other circles? I'm 35. I know I'm not old. But we started touring with The Flatliners at such a young age that sometimes I feel a lot older than I am. If dog years and cat years are a thing, road years should be too. So, yeah. I think I'm on the fence now. I do enjoy being home a lot more than I used to. Get off my lawn? I don't know <laughs>. I don't think I’m going to yell at them right away, but I'm gonna be looking out the window wondering who the fuck they are <laughs>.


PRT: You just mentioned you started touring at a young age. In my head, Flatliners still feel like a young band. But at this point, you've been around for over 20 years.

Chris: Yeah, it's funny. On one hand, it feels like we've been a band forever. But some of the stories we're remembering from 15 or 20 years ago, feel like yesterday. I feel like we've always been fortunate to have people thinking we're a new band. Because I think that means that hopefully there's still an element to our band that is exciting. Which is a better reaction than ‘Oh, this fucking band again.’ 


PRT: I think it helps that every album you have released, is different.

Chris: That's true. Some bands have their thing and they do it well. And it's nothing we've ever consciously tried to avoid. I just think we're really big music nerds and fans. To be honest, we've always written music for ourselves first. Not to diss the fan base or anything. We're fortunate to have a solid group of people all over the world riding with us for 20 years now. But music comes from us first and it should be for us first. So I think that's why each record has its own personality. We've basically made a career out of slightly alienating our fan base every time we put out a record.

I know when certain records came out over the years, they confused some people that really loved the band. Like ‘The Great Awake’ back in the day, which was the first record without any ska punk on it. Then ‘Inviting Light’ was a bit of a left turn with some softer choices. But I think with a little time under the belt of those particular records, I think it shows who our band is. I wouldn't do anything differently.


PRT: ‘Inviting Light did have a couple of softer songs and then ‘New Ruin is way heavier. Does that have anything to do with you alread putting songs apart for a solo album?

Chris: You know, I've been thinking about that a little lately. I feel like each record is a response to the last thing you did.

Since I was writing ‘The Stubbornness Of The Young’ songs over the course of a few years and there's a lot of softer choices on there, it being a solo record. So yeah, that's definitely part of why ‘New Ruin’ is angrier. But like I said, ‘Inviting Light’ had some softer choices as well so that is also part of the reason why ‘New Ruin’ is angrier. We never want to do the same thing twice.

I don't know what the next Flats record will sound like. It would be cool if it was even gnarlier. But maybe it'll be softer. I have no idea yet. It's like a little magic trick that we don't even know how to do. When all the water's coming from the same well, it has a certain makeup to it. But depending on the day, it hits you differently.


PRT: ‘One Week Record’ - like the title says - was recorded in one week. The new one was written and recorded over a long period of time. Which one was more of a challenge?

Chris: The ‘One Week Record’ album was probably more challenging. We were able to add a lot of layers and textures with Brian Wahlstrom recording his piano parts in tandem down in San Diego. While we finished all the acoustic guitar parts and the vocals, we would send Brian the files and he'd record his piano parts and then send it back to Joey who put it all together. But it was all still very stripped down. I went in very naively thinking it was going to be easy. But you have to be precise, quiet and play well because everything's so exposed.

There's still some really stripped down stuff on the new record, but a lot of it was recorded with a full band, which simply takes more time. I wouldn't call it more challenging necessarily. These days, I'm going into a record knowing what I want from it and with most of it worked out. You wanna always leave a little room for magic.


PRT: Do you have a moment where you know a song is finished?

Chris: For sure. It’s something I’ve learned over the years. A lot of people that I talk to about songwriting and recording know this and feel this too: after learning how to write a song, the biggest benefit is knowing when you're done self-editing. There's some hilariously long-winded records just in terms of recording time. Like Guns N’ Roses with ‘Chinese Democracy,’ which took over a decade? And then it comes out and you're like this is not good. <laughs>. Who knows what it would have sounded like if they did it in six weeks.

Having too much time to overthink once you're in the studio can be sketchy. And artists overthink everything. I overthink everything too. I just get it all out of the way before we go into the studio. <laughs> Once we're in there, I want to just get it down. Like I said, leave a little room for magic, but I want to get it down and then walk away. Fucking close the book, man. Open the book later and read it, but don't keep writing.

The second greatest benefit to me is having time to sit on the songs and listen to them. ‘Cavalcade’, ‘Dead Language’ and ‘Inviting Light’ were all recorded in two big chunks a year apart. Not on purpose, but for different reasons like tour schedules and stuff like that. And by the time we would get to the second session for each of those records, the songs really revealed themselves. We would still be equally excited about some of the songs, but also come to the realisation that other songs weren’t as strong as we thought. Having that much time to consider which songs to put on the record, is another huge benefit.


PRT: Both Chris and Chuck from Hot Water Music have been or still are in a number of side projects. Has that been an influence on you?

Chris: A hundred percent. Seeing guys like Joey Cape, Chuck Ragan, Chris Wollard with Ship Thieves, Tim Barry, Laura Jane Grace coming from the punk world and showing this other side of themselves, that was exciting to see. 

And Scott from the Flats and myself are big Wilco fans. So there's that Americana, rootsy stuff that I really love. Or a band like Big Thief. And even straight up pop music. All of that has helped shape this record.


PRT: You’re in the Flatliners. You’re in Hot Water Music. And now the solo album. How hard is it to juggle all of those different things?

Chris: I mean, it's not nothing <laughs> I've already had quite a lot of practice in the last five or six years with Flats and Hot Water operating in tandem. Luckily in Hot Water Music, George is also in the Bouncing Souls. So there was already a precedent for juggling a couple schedules. And obviously, Chuck still does his solo stuff and Wollard has Ship Thieves. But it takes a lot of communication to make sure that schedules align and no one's toes are getting stepped on. Even without music, everyone has lives outside of these bands. I'm married. My wife is amazing and she's very understanding.


PRT: That was going to be my next question. How did she react when you told her you were going to do a solo album on top of the other bands?

Chris: Well, like we were saying, this solo record was so spread out over time in terms of writing and recording. It wasn't like, ‘hey, I gotta go to the studio for a month and then on tour for two months, even though I just got home from this last tour

And when the record comes out, there will be some touring. But it will be in these pockets of time I have where both Flatliners and Hot Water Music aren't busy. It’s just gonna be when I can here and there. Keep it special. If I was looking at making the solo stuff like a full blown, serious full-time commitment on the road, that'd be bad news. <laughs> For me as well. It would be too much. I like how each band operates in short bursts. It still takes a lot of energy, but it keeps things really fun. And I'm lucky. My wife's amazing and she's my biggest supporter. I constantly apologized to her that she married a musician, but I think she loves it. She's very independent as well and she has a lot of her alone time so we're good together.


PRT: When you told the other guys in The Flatliners you were joining Hot Water Music and then now the solo album as well. How did they respond? Are they your biggest supporters as well?

Chris: Yeah, I always want to make sure everyone's cool with what I do. At the end of the day it's a decision I'll make on my own, but they know that I want to make them part of the decision.

The Hot Water thing came out of nowhere and it took about a year for it to feel like something permanent. For the first year, they would let me know they had some shows coming up and if I wanted to play those with them. And then another month or so went by and it happened again. So that was a nice way to ease into it. 

If anything, it created a little more time for everyone at home while I'm off doing Hot Water Music. We already knew we were slipping into our ‘keeping it special’ years where we're gonna do things every once in a while. And then the solo stuff, like I said, I'm only gonna do that when I know the bands aren't busy. So yeah, everyone's cool with it.

I'm trying to make as much music as possible because it's what's in me. And as long as the four of us in the Flatliners and - still weird to say - the five people in Hot Water Music want to make records, those will happen. And if I still have this other outlet on the side for the solo stuff, I'm fortunate and I'm grateful.


PRT: When you first joined Hot Water Music, was it challenging to come into this tight-knit unit?

Chris: Yeah. Not because of anything they have said or done. It was me making me feel this way <laughs>. I've loved Hot Water Music ever since I heard them. They've informed so much of what I've done songwriting-wise. Without them, The Flatliners would be a different band. So yeah, it was weird at first in a cool ass way <laughs> They've always done everything to make me feel welcome and comfortable on the road with writing.

And with Wollard at home and me on the road, it, it took until we started working on ‘Feel The Void’ that him and I got to have a good chunk of time together. We had toured together before, but you only get so much time to hang out with the other people in the other bands. So it wasn’t until we were making the record, that we were hanging out for like a month straight. We did all our guitars for the record together and it was fucking cool, man. He's one of my guitar heroes, which I told him too. I don't know if it made him uncomfortable <laughs>. But it's a very special scenario that I have stumbled into.

The first time they asked me if I wanted to play guitar, I said no at first because I thought it was a joke. And then I thought about it and said yes. Same thing happened when they asked me if I'd want to write music with them. I was like no, I don't wanna ruin this band for other people and maybe for myself too <laughs>.  It's just a freaky question. You get asked to write with a band you've grown up loving and holding in such high regard… it just made no sense.

But then we talked again and they were like, ‘Well, come on. Don't you want to?’ And then I was in. Just overthinking. That's what I do.


PRT: For what it's worth. I think it works really well. ‘Feel The Void’ still feels very much like a Hot Water Music album, but more complete in a way.

Chris: That's very nice of you to say. It's wild to be involved. That band has such a loyal, dedicated fan base. They have been through a lot over the years. They broke up a couple of times and everyone has splintered off: The Draft, Wollard’s Ship Thieves, Chuck’s solo stuff,... They've done a lot. And the fan base has followed all of that. So I wanted to definitely do all I could to show the band and those songs the respect they deserve because of how much they mean to me. Even like playing all those songs live. Wollard is such a massive part of that band so if you're going to a Hot Water show without him, I'm doing all I can to give those guitar parts and vocals the respect they deserve. And it has made me a better guitar player. Both him and Chuck are fucking wizards.


PRT: Back to the solo album you're releasing it on your own label, PWC Recordings. Why start a label?

Chris: At this point, all of us work on music outside of the Flatliners as well. Paul has a band called Hounds that he's been doing for a while with friends back home. I got my solo stuff. John has his own stuff too. So we thought it would be cool to have a place where we could just put out all our own stuff. We love working with Fat Wreck and Dine Alone Records, but PWC is for the fun stuff. It's not like we have many hoops to jump through with any label we work with now, but we thought it would be cool to have a little home that's ours. And with the solo record, it just made sense to launch it now. Like I said, it’s such low stakes  and now we don't have to bother anyone else to do it <laughs>. It’s just a fun little kind of art project.


PRT: Aren't you worried about mixing the creative with the business side of things?

Chris: Not really. It's not very sexy to talk about <laughs>, but you run a band like a business as well. If you don’t, I think at a certain point you probably reach a fork in the road where you're either fucked and owe a lot of people a lot of money or no one's making any money.

Take this tour: you have to get flights to Europe, you rent a vehicle, book hotels or stay with people, figure out how much merch you are going to need. That's a lot of communication and a lot of money to spend. There’s so many moving parts and a lot of numbers that go into it.

There’s a lot of punks out there who are like, nah, it's just art.’And it is. But it’s also a business. The only way that this band has survived this long is because we didn't lose a shitload of money for 15 years in a row. No one knows what they're doing at first. Everyone is still making it up as they go along, no matter what size band they are. Some of the biggest bands in the world are making it up as they go along. But eventually you realize that there's a way you can do this that works for everyone.

And the label is an extension of that. We were already signing off on each part of making a record right down to the artwork. So the only difference is that now we are also the ones submitting the order to the vinyl manufacturer. It's just kind of one or two extra steps.

So if there's people reading this interview that are in a young band: don't be a dick. That's number one. And also, if you want this to be what you do for a long time, then pay attention to the business side. Know what you're spending your money on because it's your fucking money. It's your life and it’s what has helped us get to 20 years.

Tom Dumarey
Tom Dumarey

Lacking the talent to actually play in a band, Tom decided he would write about bands instead. Turns out his writing skills are mediocre at best as well.